Beyond Nature vs Nurture: Changing Views of Infant Language Development
Long before infants produce their first words, they have learned a tremendous amount about their native language(s). What do infants know, and how did they learn it? In this talk, I will describe results from multiple lines of research that suggest that infants learn by tracking statistical properties of language. Implications for atypical language development will also be considered.
A Fountain of Cognitive Youth?: The Effects of Bilingual Proficiencies on Cognitive Aging
Bilingualism research has shown that the ability to focus one’s attention in the face of distraction develops earlier in bilingual children than in their monolingual peers (e.g., Bialystok, 1999; Martin-Rhee & Bialystok, 2008), and that lifelong bilingualism may protect older individuals from some areas of the cognitive decline that comes with normal aging (e.g., Bialystok, Craik, Klein, & Viswanathan, 2004; Bialystok, Craik, & Ruocco, 2006). While it is plausible to suppose that exceptional cognitive control is a felicitous by-product of the constant practice bilinguals are said to have with focusing their attention on the use of one language while suppressing interference from the other, the nature of the relationship between language-specific skill and domain-general cognitive control remains to be clarified, particularly among middle-aged individuals who are at the age at which the effects of cognitive aging commonly begin to manifest.
With this study we sought to elucidate the relationship between language-specific proficiencies and general cognitive control by comparing the performance of Spanish/English bilinguals of different ages and language proficiencies on a series of cognitively demanding tasks. Participants were two groups of highly proficient Spanish/English bilinguals aged in their 20s or 40s/50s, and two age-matched groups of less-highly proficient Spanish/English bilinguals. Proficiency in Spanish and English was evaluated by participants’ self-assessments and by scores on independent measures of language proficiency. Cognitive control was assessed via complex sentence processing tests and via the Simon task, which tests the ability to respond to one type of visual stimulus (color) while suppressing attention to a competing visual stimulus (spatial orientation).
Analyses of variance and multiple regressions were conducted to (1) compare the cognitive functioning of younger and older bilinguals, and (2) determine the predictive power of chronological age, age of onset of bilingualism, and language proficiency for efficiency of cognitive functioning among younger and middle-aged bilinguals.
Linguistic Cues to Deception and Trust in Online Environments
The words we use can provide a window into ourselves. A robust body of research has shown that people’s language use reflects their underlying social and psychological processes, such as their personality traits, mood, social status, relationship orientation, and even use of deception. These linguistic cues include pronouns, articles, negations, and other “junk words” that carry little meaning and are often unconsciously processed. In this talk, I will provide a brief overview of the relationship between linguistic styles and psychological processes. Then, I will focus on the linguistic cues associated with deception. Do liars use words differently than truth-tellers? Is it possible to accurately determine whether someone is lying based on the language they use? Do untrained observers rely on linguistic cues to assess others’ trustworthiness? Finally, I will summarize research from my lab on the linguistic cues associated with deception in online dating profiles, and the linguistic cues used to infer the trustworthiness of anonymous posters in online medical advice boards.
Language and Zimbabwe's Cinematic Arts
Katrina Daly Thompson will talk about her book, Zimbabwe's Cinematic Arts: Language, Power, Identity (Indiana University Press, 2012). This timely book reflects on discourses of identity that pervade local talk and texts in Zimbabwe. As she explores questions of culture that play out in broadly accessible local and foreign film and television, Thompson shows how viewers interpret these media and how they impact everyday life, language use, and thinking about community.
Collegiate Foreign Language Teacher Development: Challenges and Strategies in Meeting the MLA's Call for Change
The 2007 MLA Report, Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World," called for the elimination of the often-criticized language-content structure of collegiate foreign language (FL) programs in favor of "a broader and more coherent curriculum in which language, culture, and literature are taught as a continuous whole" (p. 3). The Report further proposed that these reforms be accomplished through development of students’ translingual and transcultural competence and increased emphasis on cultural narratives present FL texts such as poetry, prose, film, and journalism. This final recommendation is a particular challenge in lower-division courses given that they are typically anchored in commercial instructional materials focused more on lexico-grammatical competence and oral transactional interaction than on text-driven learning. In addition, graduate teaching assistants (TAs) are often responsible for staffing the majority of lower-division course, and professional development opportunities are often insufficient in their scope and content to equip TAs to carry out instruction consistent with the aims of the MLA Report.
This presentation will include discussion of challenges and strategies in meeting the 2007 MLA Report’s call for change in lower-division FL courses and, in particular, in relation to TA professional development. A pedagogy of multiliteracies (Gee, 1990; Kern, 2000; New London Group, 1996) is posited as a framework for anchoring TA professional development and several concepts from Vygotskian cultural-historical psychology (e.g., everyday and scientific concepts, appropriation, dialogic mediation, assisted performance) are foregrounded as key elements of professional development activities. Examples will be shared from an ongoing empirical study of TA conceptual and professional development.
Languaging Across (Disciplinary and Transnational) Borders: Literacies and Learning for Global Youth
Language matters, as it is a primary (though not sole) medium for constructing understandings of self and others in the world. In a world where ‘superdiversity’ is the new norm, scholars across fields such as education, language studies, second language acquisition, literacies, applied linguistics, media studies and others consider the ways in which messages and representations move with ever-increasing rapidity and fluidity across the globe. In this talk I explore the role of languages, literacies and complex representational modes in sense-making in transglobal communication among youth. Examining data from a project that links English-learning youth globally through digital communication, I primarily consider two issues: 1) the ways in which languages, and forms of language, were represented and negotiated, and resultant understandings; and 2) multimodal design, and how constellations of features shape shifting understandings of ‘self’ and ‘other.’ This brings into focus issues of appropriate theoretical frameworks for understanding language-in-use in global communications and of modes and methods for research, raises questions about the nature of ‘learning,’ and carries significant implications for language studies as well as transglobal education.